Teaching in Qatar
Capital City: Doha
Population: 2.1 million (Qatari Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics)
Government: Absolute monarchy
Currency: Qatari riyal (QR)
Main Language: Arabic, English
Main Religions: Islam
The tiny gulf state of Qatar has risen to global prominence largely due to its vast resources of oil and gas. A small peninsula bordering only Saudi Arabia by land, it lies on the Persian Gulf. Although the country only officially gained independence from Britain in 1971, it has been effectively been ruled by the Al-Thani family since 1850, with the current Emir His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani taking office in 2013.
With a long cultural history, Qatar boasts relics from many of the great regional powers of the past including the Persian, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Today it is a rapidly developing country with a transient population boosted by large numbers of migrant workers from all over the world. Governed by a combination of civil and Islamic law, the country is considered amongst the Middle East’s more liberal, with less restrictions on non-Muslim visitors and women’s rights than some of its neighbours.
Pastimes in Qatar depend largely on the weather, with the extreme summer heat generally putting a halt to most outdoor activities. When temperatures drop, Qataris enjoy their own traditional sports such as falconry, fishing, camel racing and horse racing, as well as embracing popular global sports like tennis and golf. The country is particularly passionate about football, and in 2022 it will become the first country in the Middle East to host the FIFA World Cup. Qatar also has its own brand of modern ‘sand sports’ including dune bashing and sandboarding, and a host of cultural sites and museums on offer, so visit the Qatar Tourism Authority website for more ideas.
Food culture in Qatar today is heavily influenced by its multinational population and there are a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine, with Indian and Turkish food amongst the most popular. Traditional Qatari cuisine shares some characteristic flavours with North African cooking, and often features seafood. In accordance with Muslim beliefs, meat is halal and until recently pork was banned, although it can now be bought for home consumption only. Coffee is very popular in Qatar, and fruit juices and smoothies are also widely available from street vendors. Alcohol is not completely banned, but is strictly regulated and can only be consumed in licenced bars and restaurants, or purchased at the Qatar Distribution Company by alcohol permit holders.
Arabic is the official language of Qatar, but English is taught in schools and widely spoken by business people and Qataris working in service industries. Signage and travel information is often displayed in both languages.
Qatari Arabic has some difference in both sound and dialect to the language spoken in other Gulf states, but it is considered mutually intelligible and most non-native speakers would struggle to detect the variations.
Qatar is known for its extremely hot summers. Temperatures can reach 50°C (122°F) in July and August and with humidity often high as well, air-conditioning is a must! In winter the temperature drops to around 15°C (59°F), but rainfall remains minimal – rarely reaching 20mm in a month. Qatar’s small size and flat terrain means that regional variation is minimal and the weather tends to be consistent for long periods of time.
Qatar is usually a very safe place to live and crime rates are very low. However, foreigners visiting the country are advised to take extra care when travelling at night and ensure they use licensed taxis to get home. Although foreign women are not obliged to wear the traditional Qatari abaya, they are strongly advised to dress modestly both out of respect for the beliefs of others and also to avoid any unwanted male attention.
It is also important to be aware of Qatari law. Although alcohol is available to expats, you must be 21 to drink and it is illegal to be drunk in public. Drug laws are extremely strict and if you require prescription drugs you are advised to carry a doctor’s note. Sexual relationships outside marriage are illegal and unmarried men and women are not allowed to live together in Qatar, regardless of their relationship. Homosexuality is also illegal in Qatar, while public displays of affection such as kissing or hugging can land even married couples in trouble with the police.
Qatar’s Supreme Education Council (SEC) has ambitious plans for its education system and is investing heavily in improving standards. The school system in Qatar is divided into three levels: elementary school (ages 6 to 12), preparatory school (ages 12 to 15) and secondary school (ages 15 to 18). Elementary school and preparatory school are compulsory. Students who continue to secondary school may choose between an academic course in preparation for university or a vocational course to prepare them for the labour market.
The academic year in Qatar generally runs from around September to June so that the long summer holiday falls in the hottest months of the year. Depending on their curriculum and teaching style, international schools may operate different term structures, so contact the school directly for details.
Established in 1973 as the College of Education, Qatar University is the oldest university in the country. However, higher education is now growing rapidly in Qatar, with overseas campuses of foreign universities swelling the numbers of institutions based in there. The Qatar Foundation has been instrumental in this growth, with many of these universities situated at its Education City location in Doha.
Universities in Qatar charge tuition fees, which vary depending on the institution and course. The Qatar Foundation is the main source of student loans and scholarship funding, although some students now choose to take out a private education loan.
Qatar University offers a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses within its 7 colleges. The various international universities offer a range of programs including degrees, diplomas and short course qualifications between them, however some specialise in a particular area of study or type of course. Detailed information is available through the universities’ websites.
As well as being committed to improving education standards, part of the Qatar Foundation’s vision is the development of world-class research facilities. The Foundation helps to support the Qatar National Research Fund, which administers several funding programmes and grants for academics and is a very useful resource for people seeking research opportunities in Qatar.
The compulsory elementary and preparatory school years for children aged 6 to 15 are government-funded for Qataris through the independent school system. While some independent schools do admit foreign nationals, places are limited and the vast majority of expats choose to send their children to private schools. The private school system in Qatar is still regulated by the SEC, but schools are free to set their own curriculum and award international qualifications. Fees vary, but some employers offer an education allowance to help staff fund their children’s education.
Qatar values early education very highly. As a result, the SEC is considering plans to make educational preschool compulsory for children aged 3 to 6 to promote a culture of learning through play. Nurseries and kindergartens are usually private and fee-paying, but they remain popular with parents in Qatar. There are many different preschools to choose from, with costs varying depending on the facilities.
The standard of living is reputedly very high in Qatar, and with extremely low unemployment rates it’s believed that virtually none of the population lives below the poverty line. Doha is considered to be one of the richest and most modern cities in the world but the cost of living there is relatively modest compared to similar cities around the world. This is not necessarily because prices are low, but because the lack of taxation and generous utility subsidies mean that people have more disposable income and better purchasing power. Accommodation costs can be significantly higher in Doha compared to other cities in Qatar.
Foreign nationals have only recently been allowed to purchase property in Qatar, and there are still restrictions on where expats are allowed to buy. As a result, most foreigners continue to rent property instead, with rents estimated to account for around a third of expat expenditure. The most desirable properties tend to be on secure compounds which have shared communal facilities and public spaces. It is fairly common for companies to arrange accommodation for their international employees, but if you are renting privately you will find that Qatari law offers good regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship. Rents are capped, but you often have pay estate agent fees on top.
Deposits in Qatar are typically one month’s rent and are usually returned at the end of the lease providing that there has been no damage to the property. Some expats are alarmed to find that landlords ask for a whole year’s rent up front in the form of post-dated cheques, but this is a very common system in Qatar as banks will usually refuse to cash cheques before their date.
There are no property rates or taxes to pay in Qatar.
Electricity and water supply are provided by the state-run Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation, better known as Kahramaa. Tariffs are subsidised so they appear very cheap compared to many countries, but remember that air-conditioning in summer months will soon increase your electricity bill. Telephone, internet and pay TV packages are provided by Ooredoo, which also offers mobile phone services in competition with Vodafone.
There is no fee for owning a TV in Qatar, and television programming is available in several languages. However, most expats pay extra to access more channels in their native language.
Non-Qataris who hold residency status in the country are entitled to apply for a health card. The card costs QR100 (≈£16.35), but it allows you to access subsidised healthcare and prescriptions through state-run medical facilities, so it can be excellent value for money. The quality of care is generally very good but service can be slow, so some expats prefer to use private medical centres. This is a growing service area in Qatar and can be very expensive, but many employers offer private medical insurance as part of their benefits package.
Doha has a great selection of shopping malls and obtaining designer goods and branded products is not usually a problem. However, as almost everything is imported, the price of goods can be very expensive. This includes food and grocery shopping, with just a small choice of local produce available at lower prices. Alcohol is also very expensive.
There is no value-added tax charged in Qatar. The only tax levied on services is the 10% service tax and 5% government levy on restaurant and hotel bills, while goods imported for resale are subject to import tax.
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – QR7,168.42 (≈£1,171.28) per month
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – QR5,124.81 (≈£837.36) per month
- Price of apartment in city centre – QR21,967.38 (≈£3,589.34) per square metre
- Price of apartment outside city centre – QR21,788.22 (≈£3,560.06) per square metre
- Loaf of bread – QR5.49 (≈£0.90)
- Milk (1 litre) – QR6.39 (≈£1.04)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – QR2.13 (≈£0.35)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – QR40.00 (≈£6.53)
- Packet of cigarettes – QR9.00 (≈£1.47)
- Petrol (1 litre) – QR1.00 (≈£0.16)
- Cinema ticket – QR35.00 (≈£5.71)
Qatar has a good system of modern roads and well-maintained highways, and the extraordinarily cheap price of fuel makes driving a very attractive option. However, driving standards can be erratic, so drivers who are new to Qatar are advised to be cautious. In Qatar, you can learn to drive at the age of 18 and you drive on the right-hand side of the road. Unlike some countries in the Middle East, there are no restrictions on women driving. Qatar has a zero-tolerance policy in relation to drinking and driving, and if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol you are likely to be arrested, fined and banned immediately. Driving without insurance is also illegal.
For short visits, foreign nationals may be allowed to drive on a valid licence issued in their home country or apply for a temporary Qatari licence for up to three months. People who hold an international driving permit can drive on it for up to six months, but if you intend staying for longer or taking up permanent residency you must apply for a Qatari driving licence and will usually have to take the country’s driving test.
If you want to take your car with you to Qatar, be aware that any motor vehicle that is over five years old cannot be imported to the country. Many expats choose to buy cars in Qatar, and the large transient workforce in the country means there can be some really good deals on used cars as people leaving the country sell theirs on. If you buy a new or used car, you will need to register your ownership and renew it on an annual basis.
The state-owned public transport operator Mowasalat operates a fleet of distinctive turquoise-coloured taxis across Qatar under the brand name ‘Karwa’. These reasonably-priced metered taxis can be pre-booked, hailed in the street or found at taxi ranks in all the main towns, or for a more luxurious experience the same company also offers a limousine service. Tipping is considered optional in Qatar.
Mowasalat is also responsible for the bus network that was introduced in 2005. Providing public routes and school services, the air-conditioned buses are very modern and comfortable to travel in. Bus services now connect most towns and offer a cheap and convenient way of getting around, with the Faresaver card a popular option for regular travellers.
Qatar currently has no rail infrastructure. Early development work is in progress for the construction of a railway network, with the first phases scheduled for completion in 2019.
Qatar has two international airports: Doha International Airport and the new Hamad International Airport. Hamad International opened in 2014 and most major airlines serving Qatar are in the process of transferring their services to this modern new hub. Good connections are available to Europe, Asia, Africa and Australasia, but Qatar’s small size and lack of domestic airfields mean there are no internal commercial flights within the country.
Water taxis offer an alternative way to travel in Qatar’s coastal areas and out to its island territories. Although not a primary form of transport, they are a novel way to miss the traffic in Doha and provide a different way to see The Pearl-Qatar artificial island. Mowasalat plans to expand its water taxi operation over the next few years.